Well, a couple of items in which I’ve been interested saw some action this week at City Hall. City Council unanimously approved regulations for group homes which house 3 to 16 people.
According to Council Member Ed Gonzalez, these homes have not been regulated because they do not fall under the same guidelines as state-licensed care facilities. Usually, these group homes house individuals who have mental and physical disabilities or are elderly. And we have heard of recent hazardous situations recently which have endangered folks in these housing situations.
The ordinance enacted by City Council will create a basic registration process for Boarding Homes which will incorporate: access to the facilities by the Houston Police Department’s Mental Health Division, background checks for staff and caregivers, annual fire inspections, a mandatory fire evacuation plan, mandatory record-keeping, and a requirement to report criminal activity and deaths.
Council Member Gonzalez, who serves as Chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee stated: “City Council took a major step forward in helping to protect those that are often, our most vulnerable citizens. I am proud of the work that went into crafting a fair and effective ordinance that tackles the issue of unregulated care facilities head-on. I thank Mayor Annise Parker and her Administration, my colleagues on Council, and the many stakeholders who came to the table for their support, feedback, and assistance throughout this process.”
And as I mentioned earlier this week, the Fe y Justicia Worker Center lobbied City Council to enact a wage-theft ordinance. The proposed ordinance was presented to City Council and discussed by various stakeholders at a Public Safety Committee hearing, receiving favorable comments.
“Obviously, we do have a large amount of buying power, purchasing power, a large number of contracts, and, obviously, we want to make sure the city of Houston says, ‘We’re not going to be doing business with somebody that’s found to be guilty of this type of activity,'” Councilman Ed Gonzalez said.
Of the council members present at the public safety committee meeting, most welcomed the proposal. Councilman Jack Christie said, “It’s obvious something has to be done.”
Councilman James Rodriguez added, “Anybody that is going to cheat workers should not be allowed to do business or have city contracts.”
Jeff Nielsen, of the Houston Contractors Association, said much of the effectiveness of the proposal likely would rest with the coordinator position. Nielsen said he is concerned about fraud – the possibility of laborers walking off the job and claiming they were unjustly stiffed – but said those qualms likely will not lead him to seek changes to the proposal.
Fast-food worker Olga Castro said she works 65 to 75 hours a week without overtime pay.
“I’m not here because of the wages my employer owes me,” she said. “I’m here because of the impunity and lack of consequences for employers like this. Many employers are committing violations of the law without receiving any penalties.”
Stan Marek, of the Marek Brothers Co. Inc., and a Greater Houston Partnership board member, said most Texas construction workers are paid in cash and get no worker’s compensation. He said the proposal should ask more of contractors.
“This is happening in my industry, and I’m ashamed of it,” Marek said.
Let’s hope it gets voted out of committee and placed on the Council’s agenda sooner and not later.
I did my part and sent a letter to my district member of City Council, Mike Laster, who was said to be iffy on the wage-theft ordinance. I hope the hearing provided him a basis on which to strongly support the ordinance.
You can send a letter to your council member, too–click here for info.
One thing is for sure, the workers who would benefit from this ordinance showed up to City Council for the hearing.